Bangladesh kills wild dogs to save endangered turtles

January 23, 2008 5:39:06 AM PST

Dozens of threatened Olive Ridley turtles that usually swim ashore to lay eggs on beaches have been found dead along the coast in recent weeks, the officials said.

In addition to pollution and the use of illegal fishing nets near the shore, stray dogs and wild foxes are responsible for destroying eggs and killing the dwindling turtle species in Cox's Bazar district, said M.A. Hannan, a wildlife conservation officer from the Environment Department.

At least 50 turtles - 25 last week alone - have been found dead so far this breeding season along the coast, 185 miles south of Dhaka, Hannan said.

Hundreds of turtles, which usually inhabit the deep seas, come ashore to lay and bury their eggs in the sand from September to March. Their popular nesting grounds along the Bay of Bengal are declared protected areas in Bangladesh and India.

But sometimes the turtles - which weigh up to 130 pounds each - get tangled in fine fishing nets cast near the shore, or are mauled by packs of dogs or foxes, which also eat the eggs and hatchlings.

Five spots along the 62-mile stretch from Cox's Bazar to Teknaf beach, and the offshore islands of Sonadia and St. Martin's, have been earmarked for the wild dog extermination operation, officials said.

"We will only kill stray dogs which have been living in the wild and harming the turtles," said Dr. Faruk Ahmed, an official from the Fisheries and Livestock Ministry.

Wild dogs destroy freshly laid eggs in the sand and also break into nearby hatcheries where the eggs are taken for protection, he added.

On Wednesday, local volunteers - supervised by dogcatchers brought from the capital - caught strays with long hooks and injected them with poison. The carcasses were then buried in holes dug in the sand.

Olive Ridleys, the smallest of all sea turtles, are endangered worldwide, Hannan said.

Bangladesh's government has launched a conservation project with the help of the U.N. Development Program to protect turtle eggs on beaches. The eggs are incubated in safe places, and the hatchlings are released back into the sea.

"We have already collected more than 1,500 eggs for breeding this year," Hannan said.